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Israeli Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Inscriptions in Jesus' Language

01-28-2016

Israeli archeologists unearthed Greek and Aramaic inscriptions in northern Israel, suggesting a Jewish presence in the land dating back to the first century.

The three 1,700-year-old epitaphs were discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority Wednesday in a cemetery dating back to the ancient Galilean capital city of Zippori.

"Zippori was the first capital of Galilee from the time of the Hasmonean dynasty until the establishment of Tiberias in the first century CE. The city continued to be central and important later on," researchers explained in a press release announcing the discovery.

So far, researchers have been able to decode one Greek word meaning "Jose," a common Jewish name at the time, and three Aramaic words meaning "the Tiberian," "forever," and "rabbi." The researchers believe that Aramic was the language spoken by Jesus.

Motti Aviam, of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archeology, said in a statement about the discovery that the inscriptions were surprising.

"One of the surprises in the newly discovered inscriptions is that one of the deceased was called 'the Tiberian,'" said Aviam. "This is already the second instance of someone from Tiberius being buried in the cemetery at Zippori."

However, the discovery has left researchers unsure who "the Tiberian" was. Aviam explained that the researchers have two theories about who "the Tiberian" could be.

First, deceased Galilean Jews could have been brought for burial in the Zippori cemetery because of "the important activity carried out there by the Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi," a second century rabbi who edited post-biblical Jewish traditions.

Aviam also suggested that the "the Tiberian" could simply mean that the man's hometown was Tiberias.

Another surprising find was the Aramaic word "le-olam," meaning "forever." Researchers said that was the first time that word had appeared in Zippori.

"The term le-olam is known from funerary inscriptions in Bet She'arim (in Galilee) and elsewhere and means that the deceased's burial place will remain his forever and that no one will take it from him. Both inscriptions end with the Hebrew blessing 'shalom' (peace)," Aviam explained.

Although the Aramaic inscription mentions a "rabbi," researchers admit that they are unsure what that meant 1,700 years ago in Zippori, a city characterized by its numerous Torah scholars.

The discoveries of the archaeologists and researchers confirm an already extensive knowledge of a Jewish presence in ancient Israel.

Researchers also noted that the Greek inscription of the common Jewish name "Jose" shows that although Aramaic was the primary language, some Jews spoke Greek.

The IAA explained in a press release that their discoveries confirm what they already believed to be a thriving Jewish culture in ancient Zippori and surrounding northern Israel.

"The Jewish life in the city was rich and diverse as indicated by the numerous ritual baths (miqwe'ot) discovered in the excavation; while at the same time the influence of Roman culture was also quite evident as reflected in the design of the town with its paved streets, colonnaded main roads, theater and bathhouses. The wealth of inscriptions from the cemeteries attests to the strong Jewish presence and the city's social elite in the late Roman period," they concluded.

The findings of this excavation contradict the Palestinian Authority's fervent denial of a Jewish connection to the Holy Land and insistence that Israel is "Judaizing" the country.

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